RPA is simple…but not always easy!
Many companies have eagerly started their RPA journeys with the expectation of fast and high ROI’s from simple user-led automations. Many have succeeded, achieving their goals and more, but many have not. Many have started well, full of enthusiasm and delivered their first few processes, but then began to struggle and stall.
It’s tempting to feel that you should be doing more with your RPA. It’s easy to feel that you’re falling behind with talk of “Hyperautomation” and other buzz words. So, if you’re unsure how to truly realise your expected benefits, don’t worry you’re not alone, and fixing this might be simpler than you think.
But before you explore how to scale RPA, it’s important to first consider what RPA scale actually means to you and why it’s important.
“How do you scale RPA” is a question asked frequently and answers usually include most of the same points – define your operating model and create a COE, add trained resources and build a pipeline of candidates, create your governance framework and best practices, and ensure a scalable IT infrastructure is in place. There’s nothing strictly wrong with the points in this answer, but it doesn’t answer WHY YOUR RPA programme isn’t scaling, nor does it really answer HOW you will scale YOUR RPA.
Begin at the Beginning
Ultimately, scale is only the measure of one thing in relation to another. So, if your reason for using RPA is a tactical solution to temporarily fix gaps in business process, then the achievement of that outcome is the only important thing, not how many robots you have or how many processes you have automated. The number of robots you have in itself, is not a goal.
Scale is also relative: Relative to the size of your company, to the size of the problem to be solved, or to the scale of your ambition and resources. The first important factor in “scaling” RPA to remember therefore, is “Why” you want to scale. What is the issue or need that RPA needs to solve? What are your operational, tactical or strategic priorities that you want to achieve, using RPA?
Next, in order to know how you scale RPA it’s best to start with why you think you’re currently unable to scale, for example:
- you’re unsure what to automate
- you’re unsure how to prioritise and keep getting side-tracked
- your programme isn’t running fast enough
- you’re running into problems with your current robots
- your IT infrastructure and environments are not set up to support more processes
- you’re unsure you’ve chosen the right RPA tools (this is rarely ever the case, but is often considered an issue)
- you lack buy-in and support for adoption across the organisation
- you have security and compliance concerns
- you have a budget or cost restriction
- you don’t have enough skills and experience
- you believe it’s all of the above
- or you have no idea what the answer is
These are all common and genuine reasons why your RPA initiative might be stalling, but there may be others. Once you’ve deduced exactly why you want to scale and why you’re not able to, it’s a case of addressing the specific causes with a plan of attack. There’s no secret sauce or silver bullet for this, but the following check points should at least get you on the right track and are the top 3 most common obstacles to scaling.
1. RPA Pipeline
Discovery workshops are a great way to generate ideas and candidates for your automation pipeline. Arrange sessions in small groups and start by re-stating the objectives of the programme and what RPA can do. Suggest ideas and areas of focus and start building your list of ideas that come forth.
- Avoid the temptation to evaluate and assess ideas as they’re suggested, this will only kill enthusiasm and engagement.
- All processes require some level of optimisation, so don’t dwell on this now, as this can be dealt with through the automation lifecycle.
- Define some suitable parameters to help guide people, for example: Activities that take on average 2 hours per week to perform manually, involving the entry or transfer of data into the ERP system and/or spreadsheets.
Each departmental workshop like this should generate at least 10-15 clear opportunities. Use a pipeline tool if you have access to one, but if not, just build the list in whatever is easiest for you. Once you have your list of automation candidates, you can evaluate and prioritise those according to their suitability, feasibility and value – this is where YOUR WHY, is critical, as you’ll seek and prioritise ideas that help achieve your goals.
Building a pipeline can get complicated if you let it, and there are some great process and data mining platforms available to help, but sometimes the simple way is the best way, especially if you’re trying to gain momentum.
2. RPA Resources
Assigning the right resources to support your RPA programme is one of the most common reasons for struggling with scale and is mostly due to not understanding the balance of different skills that are required and the amount of time that’s necessary.
Most programmes start off with a skeleton of staff who only work part-time on the programme. This might be enough to deliver your pilot but is unlikely to sustain scalable expansion, no matter the size of your ambitions.
Whether or not you’ve decided you need a central RPA Centre to manage the programme, to scale successfully you’ll need the following resources, skills and capabilities in sufficient quantity to match your goals. However, equally important is agreeing clear roles and responsibilities for these, especially between the business and IT functions:
Process analysis, modelling and documentation
knowing what and how to ask about a process to understand both business user requirements and system constraints is the essential first step in the automation lifecycle, ensuring a smoother development, timely deployment and minimum operational or support issues.
RPA design, development and testing
Many RPA platforms are positioned as plug and play, but the reality is that for most processes and technologies, you’ll need some skilled developers who are experienced with using your chosen tools and with the automation lifecycle.
IT infrastructure and architecture
Scaling RPA is highly dependent on having a professionally maintained and managed IT infrastructure that will scale with and enable your RPA programme.
The most successful and scalable RPA programmes tend to be ones where the IT infrastructure and systems are approved and controlled by IT professionals (generally internal) and the process assessment, RPA development, testing, deployment and ongoing support is led by your business operational team. The best way to achieve this is often by creating a distinct RPA team which is focused on nothing else – and the most successful versions of these, tend to utilise some external expertise or support too.
Some other clearly defined and assigned skills that can and should make a significant impact to scaling your RPA programme delivery include:
- Change management
- Project or programme management
- Business process ownership
3. RPA Governance
Having a well-defined automation framework might sound like consultant-speak and maybe it is, but having clarity over the lifecycle for identifying, designing, building, deploying and operating automated processes is the last of the top 3 issues that cause RPA programmes to fail.
A well-defined and proven methodology will demonstrate to everyone that your RPA programme is a secure, controlled and well-thought-out programme with clear intentions and measurable results. This should be embodied within everybody’s rule book defining optimal practices for success.
This article was written to help guide those who have already started their RPA journey and are looking for a little help to move it along, but it equally serves as a watch-out if you’re just getting started so that you can avoid some common pitfalls and maximise your outcomes.
RPA is simple, but not always easy. However, if you have clear and stated business objectives for your RPA programme, aligned with company goals and follow some simple, well-proven rules as the three above, you’ll hopefully find the rewards easier to come by and the journey more enjoyable.